After dodging countless attempts by Republicans to prevent its creation and then hamstring its operations, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is up and running. And they want to show Americans just what it is that they do with their time.
The consumer watchdog unveiled a new online database of all the complaints they’ve received about credit card companies since June 1, with detailed information on the nature of the various disputes and how they ended up being resolved. Complaints filed before June will be added later on after beta testing is complete, according to a CFPB spokesperson. The list is intended to expand in the future to include data on mortgage and student loan complaints as well. The names of the consumer complainants are not revealed.
CFPB on Tuesday also rolled out a select sampling of real-life consumers helped by the bureau so far, in an effort to put a human face on the database’s vast spreadsheets of numbered case references.
Credit card companies aren’t happy with the move, claiming banks will be unfairly tarred with crackpot complaints along with legitimate disputes without enough context for users to fairly evaluate the circumstances. But the CFPB is promoting the new database of their 45,630 complaints so far as a way to “improve the transparency and efficiency of this essential consumer market” its director, Richard Cordray, said in a statement. According to the CFPB, companies have responded to 89 percent of complaints passed on to them.
The new website offers several ways to organize the complaints, including by geography, issue and volume, giving users a chance to try and spot trends or see whether their personal complaints are shared by other cardholders elsewhere. For example, judging by the data, billing disputes are by far the most common complaint, making up close to a quarter of the total. According to the CFPB, the median complainant who resolved a dispute through their office and received compensation from the company in question received $130.
In an accompanying report, the CFPB also pointed out individual real-life cases that they felt were representative of the disputes they had resolved over the last year. For example, this tale of a bank that accidentally tagged a customer with a new mortgage:
Ronald, a 77-year-old Army veteran and retired businessman from Georgia believed he had paid off his mortgage but found his mortgage servicer said he still owed money. Ronald, who bought his home in 1979 for $38,000, was blind and had trouble finding the paperwork to prove he owned his home free and clear. So he continued to hand over $100 each month to the lender. After the CFPB got involved at the end of 2011, the bank determined that Ronald had in fact paid off his mortgage in 2007 before the current servicer took over the loan. The bank refunded Ronald’s money at 3 percent interest and sent him a check for $30,000.
Republicans opposing the CFPB spun the new agency as a tool to hamper customer relations, rather than reinforce them, using hypothetical tales of complaints gone wrong.
“Under Dodd-Frank, this single credit czar will have the power to decide whether the Rodriguez family of Mesquite, Texas, can obtain a mortgage; whether the King family of Athens, Texas, can get a car loan; or whether the Schoen family of Kaufman, Texas, can even get a credit card in order to buy their groceries,” Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) said after Cordray’s appointment.
Correction: A previous version suggested the new database contains all credit card complaints received by the CFPB since their inception. In fact, it only includes those received since June 1, with their earlier cases expected to be added later.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.